Pay before play

Starz beams 'Onegin' before platform release

John Malone’s pay TV network Starz will get a rare exclusive seven-run window on the Ralph Fiennes starrer “Onegin” before it goes into general release in U.S. theaters.

The window won’t be a U.S. premiere, however: Starz has allowed Seven Arts, which owns the worldwide rights to “Onegin,” to open the movie in New York and Los Angeles for Academy Award consideration next month before its debut on the pay network Feb. 5.

For the first time, Starz Pictures will slap its logo on movie posters as co-distributor of a theatrical pic. Seven Arts has signed Samuel Goldwyn Pictures to do the physical distribution of “Onegin.”

The companies declined to discuss dollar figures, but insiders say Seven Arts bought worldwide distribution rights to “Onegin” for $15 million. With actors like Fiennes and Liv Tyler agreeing to pocket a fraction of their usual fees, producers Ileen Maisel and Simon Bosanquet kept the budget to within $15 million.

Starz has put up about $800,000 for the pay-TV rights in the U.S. Starz gets a two-month window in February and March to play off its first seven runs. Then Goldwyn will put “Onegin” back into the theaters in April in a platform release, starting with 10 major cities, says Meyer Gottlieb, prexy of Samuel Goldwyn Pictures.

Gottlieb said he expects the movie to follow the usual release pattern from April on, which means it would go to the video stores six months later, pay-per-view a month after that and then back to Starz in April 2001 for multiple runs over a three- or four-year license term.

The “Onegin” distribution scheme is rare but not unprecedented: Last year, Showtime bought the pay TV rights to Adrian Lyne’s remake of “Lolita” when the movie couldn’t find a U.S. distributor. “Lolita” opened in Gotham and L.A. to qualify for the Oscars, then went to Showtime for an exclusive window. After the pay TV run, Showtime signed Samuel Goldwyn to distribute the movie in the U.S., where Gottlieb said 400 theaters booked it. The movie grossed about $2 million domestically.

“Onegin” is based on Alexander Pushkin’s celebrated narrative poem “Eugene Onegin.” The movie is a family affair: Starring Fiennes, it’s directed by his sister Martha, with a score composed by his brother Magnus. Michael Ignatieff and Peter Ettedgui adapted the book.